Earlier this week I had the privilege of presenting at Steelcase’s Curious Minds guest speaker series. A longtime friend of mine (We served together as Ensigns at our first duty station) invited me in an effort to give a Veteran’s Day theme to it all. Though it was easy for me to agree to do it, it was a challenge for me to come up with a topic. What would an employee at a furniture company in Grand Rapids possibly want to hear about from a Naval Officer who had never been to Michigan? Like them, I have a Steelcase desk at work, but that was the extent of our common ground. I began to do some research about the company and it didn’t take me long to find their mission statement:

Steelcase helps leading organizations create places that unlock the promise of their people – places that inspire people to bring purpose to life. 

This is who we are. It’s also what we do.

Sure, they build furniture, but that’s not what they really do and it certainly isn’t who they are. The fact of the matter is that they are in the very same business as I am as a leader – inspiring people to bring purpose to life. And if you are reading this post, I would imagine you are also in the very same business. When people learn that I am in the Navy, they assume the sea is my profession. When people see the warfare device on my uniform, they assume that Cryptology is my profession. When I look at how I spend my days, I know that leading is my profession. I share that not to diminish the important role the sea plays in the profession I chose. And I most certainly, don’t want to underplay the passion I have for the warfare community to which I am extremely proud to be a part. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge that though my specific responsibilities change with each assignment, and the role of the sea with each is equally varied, the constant is my responsibility to lead. And leading is all about inspiring others to do and be more than they are.

Prior to my talk I did have the opportunity to meet with many people in the audience, a good portion of whom were veterans from across the services. These individuals were no longer serving and they were all in Grand Rapids for different reasons, but they were all drawn to Steelcase for the same reason and it wasn’t to build furniture. It was to be a part of a team with an amazing culture. It was to be a part of a team with a strong history. It was to be a part of a team committed to helping other leading organizations unlock the promise of their people while they too could realize their own potential.

When I accepted the invitation, I did so thinking it would be neat to engage with people with whom I had little in common. When I took the stage (with an amazing slide deck built by my friends at Gaping Void) I did so excited to know I was speaking to an audience filled with people with whom I shared a profession. I will admit that I enjoyed the attention that accompanied being the only person in uniform amongst a team of very appreciative Americans. More than that, I enjoyed the opportunity for all of us to remind each other that uniform or not, leaders are in the same business. Some of us make furniture, some of us create art, some of us lead teams, and all of us shape environments. And just as the slide from my talk clearly states, environment does in fact shape outcomes.

  • What is your true profession?
  • What environment are you shaping?
  • What is it about your current team that makes you proud to be a part of it?